Travis Williams targeted for Arkansas defensive coordinator job

Citing a source, 247Sports’ Brandon Marcello is reporting that Arkansas is expected to hire UCF’s Travis Williams as the team’s new defensive coordinator. Williams has served as DC at UCF the past two seasons and was co-defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at Auburn before that. Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman said on Friday that he was close to making the call.

“The defensive coordinator hire, we’re closing in on that,” Pittman said. “I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do as far as announcing that. I think I’m weighing our program and possibilities of hurting our recruiting versus hurting some other university’s recruiting. It is so close to signing day.”

During his time at Auburn, the Tigers finished in the top 17 nationally in scoring defense during four of those five seasons. HawgSports also confirmed Bruce Feldman’s Friday report that Tulane’s Chris Hampton was also strongly under consideration for the position.

Williams is familiar with the SEC landscape. He is from Columbia, South Carolina and also played at Auburn. He was at Auburn from 2014 through 2020 in a few different roles. In 2016, Gus Malzahn promoted him to linebackers coach, giving him his first on-field coaching position at the major college level. He was named the Tigers’ co-defensive coordinator from 2019-20.

In 2021 after briefly serving as linebackers coach at Miami, he accepted the defensive coordinator job at UCF under Malzahn. UCF has been pretty solid on defense this season, giving up 23.2 points per game this season to rank third in the AAC (39th nationally). They also finished third his first year there in 2021 (24.5 ppg). UCF is fifth in the ACC this season in total defense, giving up 382.6 yards per game (71st nationally). They were fourth last year at 369.3 yards per game allowed.

While at Auburn, he recruited and signed a five-star linebacker Owen Pappoe, along with several other four-star recruits like safety Smoke Monday. He has landed commitments from two four-star twin linebackers in Andrew Harris and Michael Harris, who are ranked as the No. 252 and 312 overall prospects in the nation. Both have multiple Power 5 offers. All total, he has committed from or signed from fourteen four-star recruits and one five-star in his seven years.


The UCF defense came on strong down the stretch in 2021 under first-year defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Travis Williams—who was the Knights’ nominee for the Frank Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the country.

UCF won six of its final seven games to close the season (finished off by a victory over Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl)—with Williams’ defense allowing only 11.8 points per game in those six combined victories. The Knights averaged 8.1 tackles for loss and 5.0 sacks in those six games—and finished the regular season ranked seventh nationally in pass efficiency defense (110.73) and 26Th in tackles for loss (6.8 per game).

Among Williams’ most successful pupils was linebacker Tatum Bethune, who paced the Knights in tackles with 108 (his 9.0 average per game ranked second in the conference and 24th nationally). He earned first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors from Pro Football Network, second-team selection by Pro Football Focus and honorable mention notice in All-AAC voting by the league coaches. Linebacker Bryson Armstrong led the team in tackles until a late-season injury—but he still finished with 77 stops, helping him earn fourth-team All-AAC recognition from Phil Steele.

Other UCF defenders deserving All-AAC postseason recognition by vote of the league’s coaches were end Big Kat Bryant (first team), safety Divaad Wilson (second team) and Bethune (honorable mention). PFF also saluted safety Quadric Bullard (second team), cornerbacks Davonte Brown and Corey Thornton and Wilson (all third team)—plus end Tre’mon Morris-Brash. Phil Steele feted Bryant (first team), Wilson and Bullard (both fourth team). PFN also selected Bryant on its first team, plus naming him AAC Newcomer of the Year and AAC Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Williams’ first UCF defense improved 97 spots in the NCAA team pass efficiency defense rankings compared to 2020, 86 spots in passing yards allowed (89.1 fewer yards per game in 2021) and 70 in total defense (122.5 fewer yards allowed per game in 2021).

The former Auburn co-defensive coordinator, linebacker coach and recruiting coordinator was named UCF’s defensive coordinator by Knight head coach Gus Malzahn on Feb. 17, 2021. He begins his second season at UCF in 2022.

Auburn finished in the top 17 in the nation in scoring defense under Williams in four of his last five seasons (2016-20) with the Tigers. Williams also mentored All-Southeastern Conference linebackers in three consecutive seasons.

During Williams’ five seasons as linebacker coach under Malzahn, the Tigers ranked fifth nationally in the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision, allowing only 54 combined rushing TDs (eight in 2016, nine in 2018).

In 2020 Tiger linebacker Zakoby McClain led the SEC in tackles with 113. In 2019, Auburn’s defense ranked eighth nationally in both red-zone and third-down defense, allowing only 19.5 points per game against a schedule that featured six 11-win opponents.

The 2018 Auburn defense ranked 14th nationally in scoring defense (19.2) and allowed only those nine rushing touchdowns. The Tigers ranked in the top 20 nationally in sacks (38) and tackles for loss (96) and were ninth in the country with three interception returns for touchdowns.

In 2017 SEC West champion Auburn ranked 14thTh in the country in total defense (319.4) and 12th in scoring defense (18.5), allowing just 4.67 yards per play, eighth-best nationally. Senior linebacker Tre’ Williams earned second-team All-SEC honors.

In 2016 the Tigers ranked 11th in red-zone defense and 28th in total defense (361.9), an improvement of 43 spots over the previous season, and held eight consecutive opponents without a rushing TD, the longest season streak at Auburn since 1957.

Williams signed to play football at Auburn in 2001 and earned All-SEC honors in 2004 and 2005 (first-team selection in 2004) as a linebacker. He led Auburn in tackles (80) during the 2004 undefeated season; he was second in tackles in 2005 (68) and third in 2003 (67). He won the Pat Dye Leadership Award on defense in 2004 and 2005.

Williams played for the NFL Atlanta Falcons during the 2006 and 2007 seasons before beginning his coaching career.

He was a graduate assistant at Auburn from 2009-11, served as linebacker coach at Northern Iowa, then spent one year as defensive coordinator at Creekside (Georgia) High School before returning to his alma mater.

He was promoted to linebacker coach at his Auburn prior to the 2016 season, after holding various roles on the Tigers’ football support staff. While continuing to coach linebackers, he became co-defensive coordinator in 2019 and added the role of recruiting coordinator in 2020.

Williams earned his bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice from Auburn in 2005 and received a master’s degree in adult education from Auburn in 2011.

A native of Columbia, South Carolina, Williams and his wife Jeanine, an Auburn graduate, have three daughters–Tru, Reign and Brave.

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